Here's an entry from my late lamented blog about the fear of failure and overthinking scheduling moves. It was inspired by an on sides kick in the Super Bowl. Enjoy
Last night Sean Payton made one of the ballsiest calls ever in a Super Bowl when the Saints started off the second half of the game with an onside kick. This morning on ESPN's "Mike and Mike Show" (yeah I listen to ESPN in the morning rather than NPR.... sue me) Coach Ditka, in talking about the call, praised Payton by saying that, rather than approaching the play from a perspective of "what if this fails" Payton starts from "what if it works". Success will come to those who are not afraid to fail and that has always been the case in the world of scheduling. The biggest obstacle to success that I have experienced in all my years playing this game is paralysis by analysis. The more we talk about a scheduling move the less likely it is to happen because at some point the discussion comes around to "what if you're wrong?" “What if it fails?” That’s when I know I'm fucked. Nobody's right all of the time and obviously the riskier the move the greater the chance of failure, but to never do the crazy thing, to never go out on the ledge, results in stagnation and failure.
The thing about television is you can always unscramble the egg.... look at NBC and Leno.... so I'm always willing to start from the perspective of what if this works? The worst thing that can happen to me is I get fired and, trust me; there are far worse things in life. In thinking about the Super Bowl play this morning I remembered two (of many) scheduling moves that almost didn't happen because of over thinking and naval contemplation. Thought I would share them with you. In May '98, towards the end of my NBC career we screened a pilot about a doctor who returns to her home town of Providence RI, goes to work in a clinic and moves back in with her father, a veterinarian. The pilot met with mixed reaction during the screenings. I screened the pilot in a room with our head of press and publicity. She was visibly uncomfortable watching it. Providence tested well and had enough support for it to be picked up as a mid-season show. We did not get off to a good start in the Fall 1998 and, as we were thinking about mid-season changes, I suggested that we put Providence in the Friday 8pm slot since there appeared to be nothing for "older" (25-54) women in the time period. We watched several episodes and the consensus was that it was pretty good and worth the shot.
The January TCA (press critics) tour was coming up and our head of press and publicity argued that we should delay putting Providence on the air until after TCA. I heard the dreaded words "What if it fails". The thinking was if it bombs that's more fuel for the fire among the television critics. I argued back "what if it works?" it would give us a hit to rub in their face and they hate us anyway so what's one more failure. Of course we debated this for days (paralysis by analysis), which made it harder for the marketing people to get going with promoting the show. We eventually decided to put it on before TCA and, guess what? Providence turned out to be a success for NBC and lived in the Friday 8pm time period for several seasons.
To this day I never found out why our press head despised the show but the fun story was what Vince Manze and John Miller, the marketing guys did the day after Providence opened to solid ratings. Tom Shales, the TV critic for the Washington Post hated the show and in his review noted that this was the latest in a string of horrible shows coming out of the Peacock. He ended his review with this sentence: "NBC has done it again". Vince and John took that sentence and used it as the closing quote in a promo touting the fact that NBC had a new hit on its hands. Needless to say Shales went batshit and we had to pull the promo.
A few years later I'm at FOX. In the May 2003 upfront Sandy Grushow brought out three actresses and David E. Kelly to talk about a show that had not yet been shot.....Girls Club. The thinking was that, on the strength of David E. Kelly's pedigree, we could sell the media buyers on the show. We did have a script so we were only 80% insane to do this. Girls Club was simply awful and that was reflected in the ratings.
That summer our head of unscripted Mike Darnell pitched a small group of us the concept of a dating show where the bachelorettes were told that the bachelor was a millionaire when, in fact, he was dirt poor. We needed to keep the conceit quiet while it was being filmed but we all thought that this one could be big and noisy. We needed to put a January schedule together since this was the first year American Idol would be on in season. I pitched the idea of shitcanning Girls Club and putting Joe Millionaire in the Monday 9pm slot. Darnell was convinced that the powers that be would never agree to that move i.e. giving an unscripted show a choice prime time slot. To our surprise Gail Berman and Sandy bought into it and I assumed we were set. Wrong.
A few days after announcing the schedule changes we found ourselves sitting in a room with some senior FOX execs to do a little paralysis by analysis. We were told how much better off we would be with the low rated Girls Club than with swinging for the fences with an audacious reality show. Then the dreaded words were uttered: "Do you know how much money we will lose if this fails?" Again all I could do was look at the big boys and say "But what if it's a huge success?" "Well that would be a different story" they said. We stood our ground and with Idol, Joe Millionaire and the move of 24 to mid-season (another classic case of paralysis by analysis) FOX won its first sweep and has been on a solid run ever since.
I could site other examples but I'll just say props to Sean Payton and the Saints. An example to us all of aiming for success and putting thoughts of failure on the sidelines.